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Wholesale Hiring Could Begin Soon In Normandy

Don't use this one Brittany Packnett
Teach for America

Let’s say you’ve been a teacher in the Normandy school district for a while and are wondering what’s going to happen to your job when the new state-run Normandy Schools Collaborative takes over on July 1.

If you’re still interested in teaching in the district, here is what Superintendent Ty McNichols had to say in a letter sent out to staff member last week:

The list of available jobs is posted online at www.normandysd.org -- but not all jobs are up there, because members of the district leadership team are in the same position as everyone else. Their contracts expire on June 30, and the board that will run the new district hasn’t been named yet.

All prospective employees have to file applications as external candidates, McNichols said, even though the “Job Opportunities” page of the website says: “ATTENTION, NORMANDY EMPLOYEES: If you are currently an employee of Normandy School District, please complete the internal application.”

Applicants may want to try for more than one position, the McNichols letter says, because “there is no guarantee that you will be rehired for your current position, so individuals may want to consider applying for multiple positions they are qualified for and interested in.”

'We're in a whole lot of stress…. It's a big mess.' -- Judy Davis-Edwards, head of the Normandy teachers union

All applicants need to submit a current resume and are expected to complete an online screening assessment to determine how well suited they will be for the job – a job that they may have already held, in some cases, for many years.

Interviews will be conducted throughout the rest of the month and perhaps into July, McNichols said. But with the expiration of current contracts, benefits will expire as well, and perks such as accrued sick time also will disappear.

The interviews are being conducted by district personnel along with interviewers from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the University of Missouri-St. Louis and instructional specialists from the Regional Professional Development Center and Education Plus.

Since the teaching staffs in most school districts are already set and have been for weeks, Normandy teachers who don’t get to continue in their jobs may have little prospect of finding one elsewhere. And those who do get rehired may not have a handle on what precisely their jobs will entail until the start of the next school year approaches.

Judy Davis-Edwards, the president of the Normandy branch of the National Education Association, is frustrated about the lack of answers she can give to her fellow teachers, who have a lot of questions:

“When are we going to hear something? When are we going to know something? What do they want from us?"

But her job as a technology teacher at the district’s middle school and her career of 19 years as a Normandy teacher are as much up in the air as those of anybody else.

How does she characterize the situation?

“We’re in a whole lot of stress,” she said in an interview.” It’s a big mess.”

Riverview Gardens’ experience

State takeovers of local school districts aren’t new in Missouri, of course, though Normandy’s experience will represent the first time an appointed board will report directly to the state. How that process will work is still being determined, and it’s just one of many unanswered questions as the date for the state takeover approaches.

Education commissioner Chris Nicastro revealed some recommendations from her department last week about Normandy’s future:

  • The Normandy Schools Collaborative will start July with no accreditation classification at all,
  • Students who transferred last year will still be eligible to do but no new transfers will be accepted,
  • Tuition paid to receiving districts will be capped at about $7,200.

Nothing about the district’s future will be set until the state board of education meets in Jefferson City next week. Nobody knows who will be on the board that will be running the district under the watchful eye of the state, or even how many members the board will have.
And a lawsuit by the current elected Normandy board -- challenging the transfer law that drained the schools’ budget and the action by the state board taking over the district -- remains unsettled.

As far as the hiring goes, though, some clues can be found in the way the unaccredited Riverview Gardens handled a similar situation in 2010. Then, that district was dissolved and a three-member special administrative board was put into place.

The new board at Riverview Gardens had a few more weeks to prepare for its hiring flurry than Normandy will have, but the process was still a rush once the district changed hands on July 1 of that year. When the smoke cleared and the new staff was in place, one-third or more of the teachers who had finished out the old school year were not rehired to begin the new one.

“We let some very good teachers go,” says Richard Thies, who headed the district’s unit of the NEA then and still does today, “and really no reason was given.”

He said the district used a test that was supposed to be able to determine who could best teach the struggling students.

'We let some very good teachers go, and really no reason was given.' -- Richard Thies, head of the Riverview Gardens teachers union

But, Thies said, “it was not a very good test because it really tells you nothing in the end about whether you would be a successful teacher in that type of situation.”

As far as whether the newly hired teaching staff was better than the old one, Thies acknowledged there was no good way to answer such a question. But, he added, by the time Riverview Gardens was hiring, there weren’t likely to be many good teachers left on the sidelines.

“I just think if you take the very best, highest quality teachers,” Thies said, “if you have all these other competing districts around hiring teachers back in February and March and April and May even, that talent would have been recognized by another district and those teachers would have been snapped up.

“When you get to June and you’re still out on the market, especially in a district like Riverview, that let all its teacher go in June, I just don’t think your quality would be the same as what you would have had back in March and April, when the rest of the school districts in St. Louis were hiring.”

Fresh ideas, little experience

One possible source of personnel for Normandy and other underachieving districts is Teach for America, the program where young people eager to enter the classroom are put through brief, intensive training, then work primarily in urban school districts.

Brittany Packnett, who heads the program in St. Louis, says she expects Teach for America to be a “very, very small part” of the hiring in Normandy. But, she added, those people who are hired out of the program will have a solid background to help them succeed.

She noted that members get into the program only after passing a rigorous application process. Once there, she said, they get 50 hours of training in the summer in areas like lesson planning and classroom management, then get feedback and support as they put their training to work in real-life situations.

“When you think about what a Teach for America corps member has when they enter the classroom,” Packnett said, “they have support and development that is even more robust than you might find in other places. So we’re excited to provide that level of support.”

She noted that the program has worked with Normandy since 2008 and has been deeply involved with the district, even in adversity. When the district laid off more than 100 staff members at midyear to try to relieve strains on its budget, 11 of them were from Teach for America, she said.

This time around, Packett expects between 10 and 15 members of the program to be applying for Normandy jobs, using the support not only of the program but of a partnership from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and elsewhere.

“Regardless of what challenges come with placements in Normandy,” she said, “those challenges come with teaching in general. So we know that we give them the support, and they take their training and development throughout their time in Teach for America, and a really deep understanding of the context of St. Louis and of Normandy to set them up to be strong partners.”

Thies, at Riverview Gardens, questions whether the enthusiasm and new ideas of Teach for America graduates, no matter how extensive their training, will be a match for the tough conditions they will encounter in Normandy. In his district, he noted, in some cases the program’s placements have worked, to the extent that one Teach for America alum was a teacher of the year winner.

But in general, he said, speaking as the union president, “it’s not what we want to see coming into a district. We would rather have a highly qualified teacher coming out of college that’s had all of the education, teaching practice and that sort of thing.”

Packnett has heard those criticisms before. But she recalled her experience in front of a third-grade class and the support and training that helped her through the experience.

“I found having mentors and continued support and development was critical to my development as a teacher,” she said. “Those veteran educators in my building who gave me resources and support and feedback, and my Teach for America coach who was in my classroom several times a month giving me the kind of support that I needed to be excellent. That’s a really, really robust network of support, if you think about it.”

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.

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